Back in the early days of All About Romance, I never felt comfortable contributing to our If You Like... feature (if you like Author A, try Author B) because of a lack of confidence. I always thought my taste in books was “off” from most readers'. Years later, my husband asked me to pick out a book for him to read on an upcoming short trip. I took this task very seriously and recommended Christopher Moore’s Lamb. After he finished it, my husband said, “That guy writes like I think,” a compliment of the highest order from a very picky reader. He’s wrong about that, though; let’s give credit where credit is due: My husband thinks like Christopher Moore, now on his Facebook short list as a favorite author, writes.
At the end of 2010, I finished a two-year stint with Barnes and Noble as a part-time bookseller. B&N is where I discovered my true niche in life—the ability to match books to people based on what they have in hand, or books/authors they’ve liked in the past. It’s such a specialized niche that I’ve come to consider myself a book-selling savant. Today I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’ve had the most luck in matching up with customers—aside from Soulless, which I’ve already written about, and the other Parasol Protectorate books—and the sales pitches I developed for them. Maybe one or more will strike a chord with you:
- Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: A must for foodies and/or memoir readers. Reichl, former NYT food critic, later editor for Gourmet, wrote the only food book ever to move me to tears.
- Jonathan Tropper’s How to Talk to a Widower: Devastatingly profane, laugh-out-loud funny, yet surprisingly emotional. One of the best books I read last year, although it was published in 2007.
- Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris: Terrific for Francophiles or those who loved Under the Tuscan Sun. My favorite part of the book is when the author’s husband introduced her to offal. How can you not love a man who falls in love with a woman because she’ll eat organ meats?
Christopher Moore: Fans of The Daily Show and books by its various correspondents then and now love Moore, in particular, Lewis Black fans.
- Lamb: The sub-title for this absurdist novel is “The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” Here’s how the book begins: “The first time I saw the man who would save the world he was sitting near the central well in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth.” The narrator, six-year-old Biff, watched another local boy of the same age remove said lizard from his mouth, then pass it to his younger brother, who teased it for awhile before bashing its head in and giving it back to the older brother, who brought it back to life by putting it into his mouth. Biff watches this scene repeat itself three times before telling the older brother he wanted in on it. “The Savior removed the lizard from his mouth and said, 'Which part?’” And it just gets better from there.
- A Dirty Job: The book begins when a man takes his wife, in labor, to the hospital. She dies. Hilarity ensues. Truly. I kid you not.
- David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy: An emotionally draining read about a father watching addiction take over his beautiful boy’s life. Any parent of a child who is a square peg in a round hole will relate to moments Sheff describes. What makes this one a cut above most memoirs is that Sheff is a writer by trade, so his story has a more powerfully emotional impact.
- Paulo Coelho’s The Fifth Mountain: Most readers are familiar with Coelho’s The Alchemist, but I recommend TFM for its powerful, spare writing. Not a word is wasted, and if you’ve never read a book with spiritual undertones, make an exception for this one. I did.
- Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (Sookie Stackhouse) series: The perfect “starter” series for urban fantasy readers, particularly those moving up from YA or crossing over from romance. Many popular urban fantasy novels feature multiple love interests, Arthur’s included (although her Destiny Kills is urban fantasy romance). Sex with more than one partners remains verboten outside of erotic romance, so I started with this series as my “hook” to ease them into “harder” series. Also, that Harris’ her favorite author is Jane Austen is another selling point. Sookie’s wry sensibility has wide appeal—isn’t it a shame how True Blood extinguished it?
Patricia Briggs: Briggs didn’t start in romance, and it shows, so it’s not the first series I recommend as a crossover, but it comes soon enough because she writes monogomous leads.
- Mercy Thompson series: Often appealed to male customers because Mercy is a tattooed garage mechanic by trade. The brand new book in this series, River Marked, features a much more romantic thread. I tear through each new title in this series in a day.
- Alpha & Omega series: Much more of a hybrid between urban fantasy romance and urban fantasy. The short story that kicks off the series is in the On the Prowl anthology and it’s worth the price of the book in its entirety, particularly for romance readers.
- Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson series: My favorite urban fantasy series for several years—out of many, many series—it features a half vampire-half werewolf who works preternatural law enforcement in Australia. It’s not first on my list for new readers to the genre because Riley has multiple love interests and sex partners, some within the same book. Each of the first eight books in the series is in the B range, grade wise. That’s right: eight of eight. While book nine starts and ends well (giving readers the closure they deserve), its mid-section didn’t work as well for me. Outside ofJ.D. Robb’s In Death series, I can’t think of any other long series I liked as much. Arthur started in romance, and it shows.
- Lori Handeland’s Phoenix Chronicles: The first book in this series, Any Given Doomsday, kicked Arthur off the top of my urban fantasy favorites list. Handeland is better known to romance readers for her much longer-lived Nightcreature series—still going strong—so this series represents a major departure. I consider it “the best urban fantasy series you’ve never heard about.” The series features just four books, each of which is an edge-of-your-seat read with a cliff-hanger ending. I wish I could wave my magic wand and declare the series a hit, but it just isn't, which frustrates the hell out of me. I understand a new Phoenix Chronicles short story will be published in an upcoming anthology (Handeland's website mentions the short story Hex Symbols, but a release date is TBA). As it stands, no new full-length books are in the works; if I asked nicely, would Handeland write the next one just for me?
Handeland, unlike Harris and Arthur, adds an apocalyptic aspect to her urban fantasy by incorporating the Nephilim (the off-spring of fallen angels and human women). The Nephilim hit the big leagues last year when Danielle Trussoni’s non-genre Angelology came out. Even better, Handeland blends Native American mysticism with biblical “mythology” (totally non-religious) in a way that provides context to her werewolves, vampires, and other preternatural creatures.
- Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series: This wonderfully sarcastic, cynical, and awesomely violent new series also incorporates the Nephilim. Jim Butcher fans, and male readers in particular, seem to adore this series right along with me.
(Another author to incorporate the Nephilim is YA author Cassandra Clare, in her Mortal Instruments series. I think Clare, btw, is a very clever author because she stays on trend. Her new YA series, the Infernal Devices, is steampunk, and takes place in the same Mortal Instruments universe, just 150 years earlier, and as many readers know, steampunk went mainstream about a year ago (remember “Punked,” the Castleepisode last fall that centered around a steampunk club?).
Laurell K. Hamilton: One of the godmothers of the modern urban fantasy novel.
- Anita Blake, Vampire Hunterseries: The first several books of this series offer a strong introduction into urban fantasy, but I lost interest at a certain point, as did many other readers, for a variety of reasons. A better story-teller than writer, I think the first books are a must-read, but the other authors I’ve already mentioned are strong story-tellers as well as better writers.
- Merry Gentry series: I’ve read this entire series, and though I think the most recent book was unnecessary (the series could have ended with the one just before it), I can recommend each of the other seven titles. But because the theme of these books is fertility—meaning lots and lots of strangely unerotic but very graphic sex with multiple partners—its appeal is limited.
That takes care of non-romance books/series I matched up with readers while in savant mode. Check back at H&H tomorrow for my romance picks.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.